2. The Web Server

To gain access to your website, its constituent files must be first loaded onto a computer, which will then act a web server or web host as long as it’s connected to the internet. The machine can be in your own home or office, or via a facility provided by a ‘third party’ web hosting service.

Using a Local Computer

It’s perfectly possible to use your home computer as a server. However, the machine will need to be powered and awake at all times. Any shutting down of the machine or power failure will make your site inaccessible. Furthermore, the speed of downloads from your site will be limited to the upload speed of your internet connection. Being typically a fifth of the download speed, this is a restriction, especially if your site includes large files such as high resolution images, videos or audio recordings, or if you have lots of site visitors. Having said that, such an arrangement may be adequate for a simple ‘nameplate’ site with contact details and other information.

A slightly better option is to a have a computer dedicated to your website, preferably with its own internet connection to the outside world, separate to your usual connection. Ideally, the computer should be powered via an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), so that failures in the mains supply won’t disrupt access to your site.

The use of any local computer requires you to install and maintain special software to make it work as a server, which can be a complicated business, something that many site operators tend to avoid. The security of your personal information may also be vulnerable to hacking, should the server contain such material. Against this, you can load files directly onto the local computer and they’ll be immediately available on the web, without any need for uploading.

Setting up a local computer as a server is outside the scope of this document.

Web Hosting Services

A web hosting company can provide all you need to operate your website. Ideally, you should choose one that can also supply a domain name (see below). Some companies boast ‘green’ credentials regarding energy usage, and often utilise Solid State Drives (SSDs), providing a high degree of reliability and speed. Most providers employ very large computer systems that give accelerated access to the internet, outstripping the speed of your local connection, thereby accommodating large numbers of visitors, as well as any highly demanding audiovisual content.

Some companies offer numerous ‘bells and whistles’, including server-side software that operates on the server itself. For a simple site none of this is required, although statistical reports and the ability to integrate an email account into your website can be very useful. Such an email address could appear on your site in the form of myname@mysitename.com.

Once you’ve established your hosting service, the company will provide you with a special web address, along with a user name and password, which gives access to a web-based control panel, which can be used to select various options for the site. Also, you’ll most probably need an application, suited to your computer platform, for uploading files to the server. This will either be provided by the company itself or a recommendation given. Again, the application will need a user name and password, which can be the same or different to those of the control panel.

A typical uploading application is FileZilla, which accommodates numerous protocols, the software used to upload files. For websites, the most common protocols are File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) and Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV). FTP is probably best avoided, since isn’t secure, with web pages uploaded as plain text, whilst SFTP data is encrypted during upload.

WebDAV is also secure, but only if your site itself is secure, an essential requirement for a modern site. On most computer platforms you can also use WebDAV to get to your website files via the desktop, without FileZilla or similar applications. In macOS, for example, you just select Connect to Server in the Finder, enter your site in the form of https:mysitename.com:2078, followed by your user name and password, and then wait for the files and folder to appear on the screen. You can then manipulate them in exactly the same way as the items on your computer.
Setting up a control panel and getting access to your website can seem nightmarish, but once you have a system of working the process becomes much simpler.

Domain Names

Whatever your web server, your site really should have a proper website name, or domain name, as opposed to using a numerical IP address (see earlier). Many companies offer such a domain name registration service. And, if you need a web hosting service, it’s best to choose a company that can provide both hosting and registration.

The site name can include any letter (always think in lower case) or number, as well as hyphens (), although the latter are probably best avoided. There are numerous Top Level Domains (TLDs), the part of the name to the extreme right, which may describe the kind of site that you offer, or your country code in combination with the kind of site. It’s best to only use a country code as a TLD if you intend to only operate in that country.

Take care of your security at this point. Registration can sometimes result your personal information being displayed on the internet, as on sites such as whois.com. To avoid this problem you should insist on private registration, meaning that the registration company’s details will be shown instead of your own.